Magazine article Science News

Is Your Phone out of Juice? Biological Fuel Cell Turns Drinks into Power

Magazine article Science News

Is Your Phone out of Juice? Biological Fuel Cell Turns Drinks into Power

Article excerpt

Using enzymes commonly found in living cells, a new type of fuel cell produces small amounts of electricity from sugar. If the technology becomes viable for mass production, a few drops of your favorite soft drink will be all you need to recharge your cell phone.

In fuel cells, chemical reactions generate electrical currents. The process usually relies on precious metals, such as platinum, acting as catalysts. In living cells, enzymes perform a similar job, breaking down sugars to extract electrons and produce energy.

When researchers previously used enzymes in fuel cells, they had trouble keeping them humming, says Shelley D. Minteer of St. Louis University. Whereas biological cells continually produce fresh enzymes, there's no mechanism in fuel cells to replace enzymes as they quickly degrade.

Minteer and Tamara Klotzbach, also of St. Louis University, have now developed polymers that wrap around an enzyme and preserve it in a microscopic pocket. "We tailor these pockets to provide the ideal microenvironment" for the enzyme, Minteer says.

The polymers keep the enzyme active for months instead of days. In the new fuel cell, tiny polymer bags of enzyme are embedded in a membrane that coats one of the electrodes. When glucose from a sugary liquid penetrates a pocket, the enzyme oxidizes it, releasing electrons and protons. The electrons cross the membrane and enter a wire through which they travel to the other electrode, where they react with oxygen in the atmosphere to produce water. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.